Jane Weaver interview: 'My music is probably space pop'
We speak to Jane Weaver about gender balance in music, otherworldly inspirations and about going at it alone on upcoming solo tour Loop in the Secret Society, her first in over five years
Hailing from the fringes of the north-west indie/alt-rock scene, Jane Weaver is a prolific, resilient artist – if not a central figure, an important outlier working consistently in an industry and genre that can at times be outright hostile to women. Having fronted acts Kill Laura and Misty Dixon in the 90s and early 00s respectively, and after earning such famous fans as John Peel, Lauren Laverne and Jarvis Cocker, Weaver noticed a distinct decline in a certain subsection of her musical counterparts. “A lot of my male peers were going from strength to strength and a lot of my female peers were just dropping off and I thought, 'What’s going on here?' And it’s not because everybody who was female was rubbish, there just weren’t the places to go, there just weren’t the paths available.”
Weaver reacted by carving out her own space in the music industry for women and others who maybe struggled with traditional paths. In 2002, she launched her own independent label, Bird Records. “I started [the label] to be open to people who wanted to release a single, like a small single, and then go on somewhere else, and it was also to release my own music. I’d had several record deals that hadn’t gone well and my manager at the time just said to me, even though I had an album to go, 'I can’t get you arrested, it’s just boy guitar bands here.' And I thought it was ridiculous. It’s not that I didn’t have good songs or good ideas or a good work ethic, it was just the fashion for the boy guitar bands. It’s always been the predominant thing and it still is now. It’s upsetting.”
Weaver is cautiously optimistic about change in an industry that can be conservative and misogynistic. “[Festivals] have signed that Keychange pledge” in an effort to battle gender disparity in music festival bookings, “where they say by 2022 there’s going to be more of a balance. I think it will take a long time, I don’t know why, but it’s probably to do with financial issues, probably big festivals will go for the men with guitars for some reason, I don’t know!” she laughs.
For those new to Weaver’s solo work, reading the critical acclaim around her solo album discography may only confuse further, with her sound being described as everything from “hallucinatory disco-folk” by The Guardian to NME declaring, “Jane Weaver is the sound of Cat Power if she’d grown up next door to Oasis.” Weaver is more direct, explaining how her sound is so expansive yet accessible through the enduring construct of the pop song structure. “I suppose, in simplistic form, my music is probably like space pop or space rock, I guess. I do love heavy rock, psychedelic music, but I’ve always been a sucker for pop music. I love all sorts of pop music so it’s important for me to have a pop melody with whatever I do, whether it be a motorik muscular backing and heavy Moog or whatever. I’m drawn to do a more melodic melody... something that’s like verse, chorus, verse, chorus.”
'I love the idea of being in a different environment with more visuals and just approaching the songs in a different way, as more of an art concept' – Jane Weaver
Weaver has been touring tirelessly with her band of late, playing her most recent and perhaps best-received album yet, 2017's Modern Kosmology. Her new Loops in the Secret Society tour, which kicks off on 17 October at Edinburgh’s Pleasance, is a solo audiovisual reworking of both Modern Kosmology and her 2014 album The Silver Globe, a record Weaver endearingly considers “a mini breakthrough” because it had her phone ringing off the hook with gig and press offers. Loops in the Secret Society is her first solo tour in over five years and comes with its own unique set of challenges. “It just means that I’m under more pressure to play stuff live and do it on my own. I can manage everything, it’s fine, it’s just the brain pressure of knowing that you have to do it. It’s like a one man band having to do so many things at once, where I’m not just like walking about the stage and pointing and stamping on the floor and singing. It’s maybe a little more. And maybe I won’t have two drinks before I go on stage, I’ll maybe just have half of one!”
And where does the idea of a solo show come from, why shed the comfort of a band? “It’s one of those things where you think 'I wanna do something different!' You start planning it, all high energy, and it’s exciting but then you think 'Oh gosh, that’s quite a lot of work for one person!'" she laughs. “But I definitely love the idea of being in a different environment with more visuals and just approaching the songs in a different way, as more of an art concept, rather than just a band show. I’ve redesigned my backing tracks to go on vinyl dubplates and changed them so I’ll be using loops and stuff like that on backing track. And then I’ll be doing live playing – I’ve got different keyboards, and also guitar and effects, and of course singing! My friend has made a film as well, so it’s going to run hopefully more like a cinematic event. Some of the venues are quite big and seated so it will be nice to have a big, visual backdrop.”
It makes sense that Weaver is so passionate about audio visuals given that so much of her influences come from art and cinema. The Silver Globe was inspired by cult Polish filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski’s On the Silver Globe, a tribal, impressionistic sci-fi. Modern Kosmology has similarly esoteric and fascinating origins. “I came across an article on Hilma af Klint, who was a Swedish mystic painter from the late 1800s, who they now think is one of the first abstract artists. She used seances and automatic drawing in her painting. She also had a group of five women (including herself) called 'de Fem' and they would all sit around to contact a higher plane and use that energy in their work, which is for me not only a fascinating story but just visually her art is amazing because a lot of it is coded, as well as abstract.
"Some of it’s nature-based and some of it’s scientific-based, it’s just a combination of things which really speak to me." Weaver continues: "And the fact that it’s also quite mystical and weird, I really tuned into that and that became my muse for Modern Kosmology. The idea of 'Where do ideas come from?' The theme and vision that, especially the lyrical content of some of the songs, gave me something to dig into really. I couldn’t stop because I think I’m quite obsessive when I think about things, it’s repeating and repeating in my head, and I can’t get it out of my head until I’ve done something with it!”
Once Weaver’s harnessed that creative energy, she channels it into experimentation in the studio. “I am always interested in how people create. When I go into a studio for instance, I use a lot of analogue equipment in there because I’ve got a connection to growing up around that stuff, and I like the physicality of grabbing this keyboard and playing with all these buttons, holding down keys and twisting knobs and all that! I love getting hold of amusing equipment you’ve not used before, the spontaneity of getting hold of a new keyboard and just making up something new. You can guarantee anytime I buy a new instrument I will make up a new song with that. I bought a Roland Juno synth and I wrote Slow Motion on it immediately. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t bought that piece of equipment. It’s just the unknown, isn’t it?”
Jane Weaver plays The Pleasance, Edinburgh, 17 Oct